Officials with the federal Department of the Interior, in a coordinated effort with the Department of Education, have announced a renewed pitch to increase broadband access in Indian Country.
As part of a two-day National Tribal Broadband Summit just concluded in Washington, administration officials said the need for broadband access on tribal lands remains pressing.
“For too long, the status quo has hamstrung our Native communities from accessing global markets, engaging in e-commerce or providing quality health care and education to American Indians and Alaska Natives,” remarked Tara Katuk MacLean Sweeney, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs with the Interior Department.
The assistant secretary added that through collaborative efforts with Native American communities, and the private sector and industry leaders, both tribal land and rural area broadband access is increasing.
Even so, according to figures released during the summit, only 46.6 percent of rural tribal locations currently have any kind of broadband coverage. The figure is somewhat better for rural non-tribal locations, 73.3 percent of which today have at least one broadband provider.
Despite the ongoing push, summit speakers noted that the quest to increase broadband availability on tribal lands is not without challenges: many tribal areas are situated on rough terrain in rural locations.
And in those locations the populations tend to be significantly more sparse than in urban areas, a factor driving up the cost for any businesses desiring to serve a tribal area.
Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai noted that smaller carriers serving tribal communities have increasingly been trying to balance out their broadband infrastructure costs with support from the commission’s Universal Service Fund.
Pai noted that in August, the commission authorized a “new round of support for rate-of-return carriers, which will ensure fixed broadband is available to over 37,000 locations on tribal lands.”
By Garry Boulard
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